Canada's Condominium Magazine

O happy Canada! Not just money, but freedom, generosity, trust make countries happy: report

Does this surprise you? The Chinese are no happier today than they were twenty-five years ago, despite being five times richer, with millions more people owning personal computers and cars, as well as the usual accoutrements of affluence—colour television, air conditioning, washing machines, refrigerators. We would have taken it for granted that all of that economic improvement would have translated into greater happiness for the people, but evidently that is not the case.

As for the United States, the world’s greatest economic power is in the midst of a social crisis, and its happiness level is actually falling. And once again, this is so despite a rise in GDP and personal income, which has risen steadily since 1960. Wealth has gone up, but happiness has gone down. In 2007, the US ranked third among the OECD countries; by 2016 it had dropped to nineteenth place, due to declining social support and increased corruption.

Lesson? What people have known forever in some way: money can’t buy happiness, though we still like to think, like Candide imagining the best of all possible worlds, in which “rolling in luxury and stylish charm” is the dream, that it can. As the rather stern happiness report puts it, raising economic prosperity does not bring happiness. What does bring happiness is eliminating inequality, corruption, isolation and distrust. The US is “looking for happiness in all the wrong places.”

So says Columbia University professor Jeffrey D. Sachs, writing in the latest World Happiness Report, released today, March 20, on the United Nations International Day of Happiness.

The US social crisis, Sachs argues, characterized by a decline in social support, less sense of personal freedom, lower donations, and more perceived corruption in government and business, cannot be remedied by government policies that focus exclusively on raising economic growth rates, “as if a higher growth rate would somehow heal the deepening divisions and angst in American society.”

Happiness, in contrast, the report tells us, is both social and personal. Having someone to count on in times of need, being generous in donating to charities and causes, feeling a sense of freedom to live as one wants to and feeling freedom from corruption are all just as important, if not more so, in determining happiness as money is. In countries where there is variance in the happiness level, the differences tend not to be associated with income inequality but with differences in mental health, physical health, and personal relationships.

Soon, when we feel we can afford it, we’ll build a modest little farm. We’ll buy a yacht and live aboard it, rolling in luxury and stylish charm. Cows and chickens. Social whirls. Peas and cabbage. Ropes of pearls.

Subjective well-being

The happiness report measures subjective well-being in people around the world, using a few simple questions. One of these measures, the Cantril ladder, asks people to imagine where they see themselves on a ladder with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top represents the best possible life for the person, the bottom the worst. That measure, with a couple of others factored in, gives the overall ranking for each country.

Colours from blue to grey represent GDP per capita, social support, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, perceptions of corruption, and dystopia. Source: Happiness Report

Canada placed seventh in the world this time round, with a score of 7.316. Norway, which is the current happiness capital of the world, scored 7.537. There is very little difference in the scores among the top ten countries, seven of which are northern European, the other three being Canada, New Zealand and Australia. The United States dropped into fourteenth place.

That drop in the US was seen as important enough to warrant a special chapter on “America’s Crisis,” which, according to Sachs, is likely to get worse under the Trump presidency, whose policies are aimed at increasing inequality, he says.

The top countries all have high values in the six key variables that are used to explain why countries are happy. Happy countries are those where incomes are good, life expectancy is long, people have friends and family to count on in times of need, there is generosity, freedom, trust, the latter measured by an absence of corruption in business and government.

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